When a medical mistake, car accident, or carelessness of any kind causes a fatal injury, the person at fault should be held accountable. Wrongful death attorneys Chris Mellino and Tom Robenalt welcome you to contact our Cleveland office with any questions you may have about a potential claim or Ohio’s statute of limitations.
Can I File a Wrongful Death Claim for Medical Malpractice?
A recent study showed that nearly 440,000 people die in hospitals each year.
“These people are not dying from the illnesses that caused them to seek hospital care in the first place,” Leah Binder wrote for Forbes. “They are dying from mishaps that hospitals could have prevented. What do these errors look like? The sponge left inside the surgical patient, prompting weeks of mysterious, agonizing abdominal pain before the infection overcomes bodily functions. The medication injected into a baby’s IV at a dose calculated for a 200-pound man. The excruciating infection from contaminated equipment used at the bedside.”
When filing a wrongful death claim for medical malpractice, an attorney must first prove that a doctor-patient relationship existed. He or she then must prove that the doctor or surgeon’s actions (or inaction) caused the death. Often, an expert witness is consulted to determine whether another healthcare provider with similar training and experience would have acted in the same manner under the same circumstances. A claim must also show that the doctor’s breach of duty resulted in damages, such as funeral expenses, loss of companionship, and loss of wages.
Examples of Wrongful Death Lawsuits for Medical Malpractice
In one of the most infamous wrongful death lawsuits in recent history, Michael Jackson’s family filed a claim against concert promoter AEG because the company hired Dr. Conrad Murray to care for the singer. Though Murray had been sentenced to four years in prison for Jackson’s anesthesia drug overdose, according to ABC News, a jury found that Jackson’s death was not AEG’s fault because the former heart surgeon was neither unfit nor incompetent.
In another high-profile case, a popular DJ died of sepsis a month after plastic surgery. ”That can occur from anything in life, it can occur from a pneumonia, it can occur from a bronchitis, it can occur from a gastrointestinal virus or bacteria. It can occur from surgeries that have surgical infections,” her surgeon told an NBC News affiliate. “Seeing things a month later is very rare and very unlikely.” The woman reportedly slipped into a coma and doctors amputated her hands and feet to prevent the bacterial infection from spreading, but she died in August 2013.
In yet another case, an 85-year-old woman, who’d been treated for dementia for two years, steered her Toyota into oncoming traffic. The family of the woman’s boyfriend, who was killed in the accident, filed a wrongful death claim against the woman’s doctor. As latimes.com reported, “[State] law requires doctors to look out for patients with ‘disorders characterized by lapses of consciousness’ and report them to local health authorities, who in turn notify the Department of Motor Vehicles.” The doctor in this case neglected to do so.
Our Wrongful Death Settlements
Client Lisa L. contacted wrongful death attorney Chris Mellino after her 79-year-old mother suffered cardiac tamponade and died following heart valve replacement surgery.
“When I first spoke to Chris,” she says in her testimonial, “he was very realistic and told me that — well, first he told me that there was a case because I didn’t know that there would be or not. I was the executrix, so I thought I should check and see whether anything had been done that shouldn’t have been done. [Chris] said there was a case, but he said very often, with a case involving somebody who’s elderly, there isn’t much chance of doing anything – at least with a jury. I went to law school, so I understand that. But the more he looked at medical records, the more he saw that the steps the hospital had taken and the steps that they had omitted were really quite egregious mistakes. We were able to get a settlement from [the hospital], which was more than I expected it to be under the circumstances.”
Client Cathy S. filed a wrongful death claim after her 78-year-old mother’s surgeon cut into a staghorn kidney stone and caused sepsis.
“She should’ve had an antibiotic for this kidney stone, because it’s highly infectious,” Cathy says. “I learned that once I looked it up on the computer. On top of that, he didn’t give her a urine culture, and she had a urinary tract infection that nobody knew about. So that’s two things he did wrong.”
Cathy’s mother was rushed by ambulance to another hospital where she was put on dialysis, but she died of septic shock the day after surgery.
“It just makes me sick to my stomach,” Cathy says. “Those things shouldn’t happen. I know doctors are human, but somebody didn’t do their job, and now my mom is dead. I was pleased — I shouldn’t say I was ‘pleased’ with the outcome. I guess doctors don’t say they’re guilty, but, if you offer a settlement, in my eyes, that’s guilty. But they don’t say they’re guilty. The sad part about it is, the doctor’s still practicing. That’s the part I don’t like. I wanted to take his license.”
In 1997, Ohio Lawyers Weekly reported that Chris Mellino and his former partner were awarded the third highest verdict in the state for a wrongful death case in which the hospital failed to diagnose a patient’s meningitis symptoms.
“[The inexperienced residents working that holiday weekend] thought he was undergoing alcohol withdrawal even though he had no history of alcohol abuse,” Mellino told reporters. By the time senior staff members returned to the hospital on Tuesday and diagnosed the 37-year-old father of four’s condition, it was too late. “The brain had already herniated and he died later that day,” Mellino stated.
Two years later, Mellino and his partner were recognized in the publication’s “Largest Settlements of 1999″ for three claims, including a $4 million settlement involving the death of a mother and her baby when doctors failed to diagnose and treat her infection.
March 2, 2001, Chris and his partner settled a wrongful death lawsuit against Ford Motor Co., et al., for $4 million. According to Ohio Lawyers Weekly‘s “Top 20 Multi-Million Dollar Settlements” issue, a three-year-old boy “was asphyxiated when he was trapped between the rear sofa seat and a bench in a 1996 Ford Econoline conversion van.”
For more information about cases we’ve handled, please contact us.
How Are You Different from Other Wrongful Death Attorneys in Cleveland?
First, our firm does not advertise. Lawyers and satisfied clients send us the bulk of our caseload; others find us online.
Second, in February 2002, Plain Dealer columnist Sarah Crump reported that Chris Mellino and his former partner set the standard for lawsuit payouts in the state. “In a single year, 1997, they won judgments totaling $30 million,” she wrote.
Unlike settlement mills that take every case and settle every claim for the first amount offered, Chris has gone to court against every major hospital system in Northeast Ohio. His work has helped change the law in several landmark cases, including Moskovitz v. Mt. Sinai Medical Center (1994) and Watkins_v._Cleveland_Clinic_Foundation (1998). In the latter, he and his previous partner were awarded the largest verdict in the state that year.
Some law firms take every case that walks in their door, but Chris and Tom believe their time is better spent helping families of wrongful death victims than disputing a fender bender. Limiting the number of claims we pursue enables us to give each one the attention it deserves.